William (“Billy”) Lee

Portrait of Washington and Billy Lee by John Trumbull, 1780

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QUICK FACTS
BORN:
c. 1750
  DIED:
1828 at Mount Vernon, Virginia
Buried in the slave burial ground at Mount Vernon.

  • During the summer of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, with Washington presiding, Billy Lee stood behind his master’s chair and tended to his personal needs.
Portrait to come. See entry in Wikipedia. George Washington's long-time valet, William Lee, suffered two serious accidents in the 1780s which dislocated the knee caps of both legs, resulting in permanent disability. Because he could no longer perform his regular duties, Lee became the plantation's shoemaker instead.

 

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Washington’s courage thrilled his men. But he was not an enlisted man’s general. He did not interact personally with them, and would not let his officers do so either. Officers under his command who supped or slept in enlisted men’s headquarters were routinely punished. To Washington’s mind, discipline and hierarchy were central to maintaining unit cohesion and integrity. No warm, outgoing person, notes one historian, Washington bound men to him by his own sense of justice and dedication. Yet how his troops viewed him, and in what ways their opinions may have changed over time, is uncertain. Although nineteenth-century history books and old soldiers’ memoirs resonate with references to the commander-in-chief’s inspirational presence, diaries and other accounts written in wartime rarely mention him.

Edward G. Lengel
General George Washington: A Military Life (2005)